UCSF Responds to AFSCME's Plans for Two-Day Strike

UC to Seek Injunction to Halt 'Threat to Public Health, Safety'

May 13, 2013

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union announced on May 10 that its patient care technical workers unit will strike on May 21 and 22 across the University of California system.

AFSCME’s patient care technical workers (EX Unit) will be joined on the picket lines by AFSCME’s service workers (SX Unit), who will engage in a sympathy strike at UC campuses.

UPTE’s health care professionals unit (HX), which includes pharmacists, also announced it will strike in sympathy and it is possible that members of other unions will also join the strike, although strikes are illegal for members of unions currently engaged in bargaining or still under contract.

Physicians and nurses will not be on strike and will continue to provide care to patients.

UC officials say a strike involving patient care technical employees at its five UC medical centers, including UCSF, would pose an imminent threat to public health and safety and improperly withhold health care from members of the public.

Because of that threat, the University said it will seek a restraining order against an AFSCME strike.

A strike by AFSCME patient care technical workers, and other union workers who join in sympathy, could involve more than 4,200 employees at UCSF, which operates one of five medical centers in the 10-campus UC system.

The majority of these workers take care of patients and their families at UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. They include patient care assistants, respiratory therapists, sterile processing technicians, hospital lab technicians, pharmacy and imaging technicians.

The strike is also expected to affect patient care services at other UCSF clinical sites, including San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, the dental clinics and Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute.

Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH, and UCSF Medical Center CEO Mark Laret sent a communication to the UCSF community today that says, in part:

“UCSF is a leading university, with top-ranked academics and research programs. Our UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital rank among the nation’s best hospitals and consistently exceed the most widely used patient satisfaction and safety measures in the nation. We ask all employees to continue placing UCSF’s mission of improving health – and particularly the interests of our patients who entrust their lives in us every day – as a top priority.

“If AFSCME goes through with its strike plans and UPTE with its sympathy strike plans, all UCSF employees – including represented employees – would still be allowed to come to work. We encourage you to do so in service of our patients and our community.”

Pension Reform, Not Patient Care at Issue at Bargaining Table

The University of California has been working to negotiate a fair contract for AFSCME patient care employees since June 2012.

UC has proposed a total compensation package that includes competitive wages, excellent medical and retirement benefits, and good working conditions.

While AFSCME has cited concerns about patient care, the main issue in contract negotiations is its refusal to agree to urgently needed pension reform across the University, UC offcials say. Like many other employers, including the state of California, UC is enacting substantive pension reforms to help the University address a $24 billion pension fund liability, and enable it to continue offering employees financially sustainable pension benefits.

UC strives to treat all its employees fairly. Eight unions representing 14 other UC bargaining units have agreed to the University’s modest reforms, which also apply to UC faculty and staff not in unions. AFSCME has thus far resisted these reforms, refusing to agree to any changes.

UC believes AFSCME has not, in good faith, explored all options through the bargaining process. Further, UC considers it highly inappropriate for AFSCME to threaten patient care as a tactic in contract negotiations.

“I respect our employees and their right to representation,” said Mark Laret, chief operating officer at UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. “I also agree with AFSCME leadership, who often say that the most important issue is patient care.  It’s for that reason this strike notice is so disappointing. In fact, a strike hurts our patients more than anyone else.”

UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital rank among the nation’s best hospitals and consistently exceed the most widely used patient satisfaction and safety measures in the nation. Patients come to UCSF because it delivers high-quality, specialty care that is unavailable in many community hospitals. 

“We expect that during a strike, we would have to reduce our patient census by one-half with serious consequences for many of our patients,” Laret said. “A strike also will cost UCSF millions of dollars every day, money that would otherwise be used to support patient care, and our missions of medical education and medical research.”